"More relatable than some ancient evil": A conversation with Oozing Wound
The Chicago metal slashers play October 11 at The Frequency.
Chicago's Oozing Wound have taken an idiosyncratic approach to metal from the start. Formed in 2011, they were initially categorized as a thrash metal band, and a very cursory listen wouldn't lead a casual listener astray from that judgment: The New Yorker memorably, and quite inaccurately, described them online as "a cheap imitation of Metallica and Slayer." But Oozing Wound haven't often exhibited many of the characteristics of strictly defined thrash metal. They never allow themselves the prog-y, epic sweep that characterized bands influenced by '80's Metallica, and don't come close to the grinding chromatic violence of Slayer. Moreover, they don't stuff their songs full of anywhere near as many riffs as most thrash bands do, almost never solo, and often write in an acidic, knowingly sarcastic lyrical tone that's leagues removed from the horror-movie theatrics bands like Kreator (a well-loved influence) would glory in.
It seems more accurate to say that Oozing Wound use thrash rhythms and techniques to write their own kind of music: Songs like 2013's "Call Your Guy" are content to ride one sludgy mono-riff for three minutes at a time before shifting into a mosh-happy uptempo section, while "Diver," off of the group's upcoming release Whatever Forever, adds tremolo picking straight out of black metal to unexpectedly pop-inflected passages of soaring riffage, complete with blocks of off-kilter bass chords. Ultimately, the band's own assessment is most accurate: "Lemmy has never thought of Motörhead as a metal band; they were just a rock band, and that's our mentality," guitarist/vocalist Zack Weil stated in a 2014 interview with The Guardian. Weil and bassist Kevin Cribbin spoke with me by phone last week to to discuss their origins, Metallica's astonishing lack of self-awareness, and the subliminal influence of the Beach Boys.
Tone Madison: I know you guys have known each other for a while, but how did this band come together?
Kevin Cribbin: It kind of formed—it was like a tree… like a sapling that formed inside of another tree… (laughter) Kyle, the old drummer, the original drummer, and Zack, they were in a band called Cacaw. And Zack was in this other weirdo metal band called Zåth, and he wanted to write these different sort of surfy, weird, fast, simpler songs—he just asked me to play bass, and then Kyle—they'd been playing forever. Yeah, we've all known each other from other weird bands since the early 2000's.
Tone Madison: How does your guys' songwriting process work? Does Zack bring in a riff, or do you bring in a riff, and then does everybody jam on it until a song comes out, or is it all prewritten, or is it all spontaneous jamming that gets shaped into songs?
Kevin Cribbin: All of the above. The first five songs, Zack pretty much had written. And then, from then on, Zack would have a riff and an idea of the next few things for parts, and then the two of us would be like, "That's fucking lame!" or "Let's make it weirder!" or "That's great!" and then other things would sort of spontaneously happen. There's a weird Venn diagram… do you have a fax machine? I could fax it over to you [laughter].
Tone Madison: I unfortunately don't. That would be a very nice graphic. I think that's cool that you said that you'll say "Hey, let's make that weirder," because one thing I thought was interesting was that you said in an interview with The Quietus is that you guys don't really listen to metal all the time, and that it probably makes up 10 percent of what you listen to. Did any of the other stuff you guys listen to influence the new material at all?
Kevin Cribbin: Oh yeah, that stuff floats around in the background. There's a lot of, like, local influences. We like a lot of the classic shit, a lot of like Beach Boys, or Melvins, or Lightning Bolt. Zack's been trying to get me into Fleetwood Mac… but yeah, just a lot of Chicago bands nobody really knows of, that didn't get a chance to record. Like Coughs, sort of like that stuff, with the sort of classic standards of, like, old Metallica. Zack is really into really old Kreator and German thrash-y weird metal and stuff like that.
Tone Madison: So Diamond Head and things like that?
Kevin Cribbin: Yeah, yeah, and I'm a weird dude so I'm into old '70's prog rock and Lightning Bolt. Kyle and I aren't really like metal players—Zack probably has more of a hand on that, more of a training in music, and Kyle and I are like, "I don't know, man! I don't know what I'm doing with my instrument half the time!" So it's weird to have a non-metal rhythm section and a metal-ish band. So yeah, with all the weird influences—we're listening to the Beach Boys a ton, so I'm sure that filters in, in a weird way. I don't think we're going to have weird harmonies in any of our songs, but maybe in a stranger way it filters in.
Tone Madison: Following up on that, do you guys feel sometimes like you get mischaracterized as a thrash band?
Kevin Cribbin: Yeah. It makes sense to us—you know, trying to define, trying to talk about what a band is. There are easy comparisons. We're not really part of the metal scene here, we're just, like, big and strong. We have some friends in there and stuff. But yeah, we're more like the weirdo rock scene. But we like the conversation—like, "You guys are a thrash band!" "We're not! But we are! I don't know!" It's interesting. We don't want to paint ourselves in a corner, so we can't make a 20-minute doomy song if we want to, not that we necessarily do. But I don't know, there's some slower stuff on the new record that's a little spacier and more dirge-y. Like, I don't know, couch-bong dirge songs instead of fast rippers… But, yeah, we wanted to talk about that [in interviews] so we wouldn't be a specific genre or aesthetic, bound to it.
Tone Madison: Yeah. These days, a lot of bands get compared to a whole raft of bands in order to make them comprehensible to readers. What do you guys feel is the most misguided comparison you've gotten so far, besides the New Yorker review?
Kevin Cribbin: I think that's pretty much it! It's the Slayer comparison. I don't think whoever wrote that has ever heard a Slayer song in their life. That comparison doesn't make any sense. It's in someone's lexicon, they're like, "They're a metal band like Slayer!" Shit, I don't even think Slayer sounds like Slayer, so I don't even know.
Tone Madison: There's a lot of humor in the songs you guys write, and maybe that gets harped on too much when people are talking about you, but "Hippie Speedball," from the last record, almost sounds like a Pissed Jeans song lyrically—
Kevin Cribbin: Oh yeah! Yeah, definitely they’re an influence, as well as good friends.
Tone Madison: Yeah. Two of the songs on the new record—they haven't been released yet, but on the Bandcamp page, it says they're making fun of the Mercury in retrograde trend on Facebook and Senator James Inhofe. Was the humor in your lyrics a deliberate thing or something you guys ran with?
Kevin Cribbin: It's sort of conscious. That's more Zack's thing. If you filter through a lot of stuff, there's definitely a lot of dark, bleak shit, but I think it maybe counterbalances some of that. It's easier to pick up on a funny pun than to pick up some cryptic tale about people murdering people so they can live forever, or selling your soul to the devil but it being a lie and you find out you're just an asshole. There's some dark stuff in there, but yeah [garbled from phone] it balances out.
Tone Madison: Yeah, it's a definite contrast from Bathory writing songs about Elizabeth Bathory and thinking "This is so metal!" and you guys writing songs about drinking a ton of coffee to get through the day.
Kevin Cribbin: Yeah, it's definitely that mentality. There's a song or two about evil mythical shit, but yeah, well, let's talk about how our co-workers aren't really in bands and just get stoned and drink coffee and grind through their horrible, horrible day. It's more relatable to us than some ancient evil. I like that imagery though, of dark, dark shit, but to do that all the time is like the same sort of problem where you're like a motif band or something. I like a lot of that shit too, like Darkthrone and fucking Burzum and shit where it's just evil sounding and nasty. I dig that, but it's too much sometimes, like guys, relax. So that's like our reaction, like internally grappling with that. How goofy can we be? How dark and serious can we be, writing about somebody who has a grim, horrible life? It's a bummer. We don't want to bum out too much, we want to have good times.
Tone Madison: Speaking of a good time, I think Zack once said that he thought of Oozing Wound as like the musical equivalent of an action movie, and I know that you guys love Rambo. If you guys could soundtrack any action movie franchise besides Rambo, which one would it be?
Kevin Cribbin: Oh man. If someone made a really good Alien Vs. Predator movie, if someone spent the time and energy to make it good, then that'd be fun. I'm more into the idea of maybe doing a soundtrack for like a run-and-gun game like Contra, like some indie game that's rad, where we just write a bunch of shredding riffs, or boss battle riffs. That'd be dope. Like a Rambo video game.
Tone Madison: You all once said that anyone who thinks being in a rock band is anything more than just being in a rock band is nuts. What's your favorite story about a rock band who took themselves too seriously?
Kevin Cribbin: Oh wow. Someone was telling me a story—we know a lot of people who work at various venues, and someone was telling me about how a band came through, and it was like a rainy day, and their support had to cancel because their van broke down and they were almost there, and there weren't a lot of people there, no one knew who they were. And they wanted to do a walk-off at the end of their set for people who'd want an encore. And everyone who was working there was like, "I don't really know if that's going to work, or that you should even assume that that would happen…" Maybe it's this sort of idea of like, "I'm in a rock band and I need free drinks, and a cushy green room, and I need a huge, long soundcheck," and it's like, you should feel lucky you're not playing this shit somewhere to nobody. It's a fun time, just get out and be glad to be there. But generally, you should talk to Zack about that, because I'm generally too stoned out to notice when people are being super dickheads. [Laughter] I'm going to hand you over to him.
Zack Weil: Oh, Metallica. They're my favorite example ever. I use them for everything. Have you ever watched the video of them rehearsing "One" at the Grammys? I am obsessed with this video. They can't figure out their own song, and they don't know how to accept the fact that there's this chunk missing in the middle that they've taken out. It's like eight bars and they don't understand it. It goes on for eight minutes of them talking back and forth. Lars is referring to "the middle hole," and no one knows what the fuck he's talking about. It is the best. I watch Some Kind Of Monster on almost a weekly basis.
Tone Madison: That is probably one of the best comedies of our time.
Zack Weil: They're crazy!
Tone Madison: It's one of these things where—these people are totally unaware. They have no idea.
Zack Weil: Well, that's what's so amazing about it. So the Grammy video is 10 years later. This is 2014. So you know that movie has come out, they've been exposed with all of that. And they're still the exact same people. Nothing changed. It's so good. I seriously can't recommend it enough. I'm going to probably watch it again today. It's really good. But, I don't really care about bands that take themselves too seriously. Metallica's just my special thing that I'm obsessed with.
Tone Madison: It says on the Bandcamp page that Whatever Forever took four days to record, and that the last one, Earth Suck, took three days to record, and Retrash took one day to record. Do you guys generally enjoy recording fast or has that always been just dictated by the circumstances?
Zack Weil: It's just circumstantial. Studio time's expensive, it's hard to get everybody free from their jobs—you know, you take three or four days off and you're in the studio. I don't really mind the recording aspect of it, but we never have time to experiment with sounds and do things that we would really want to do. But Whatever Forever couldn't have been done in less than four days, so we did it as fast as possible. But we did Earth Suck as fast as possible, and we did Retrash as fast as possible, so there's always - they've all been different, but there's only so much money that they're to willing to give us to do this. You gotta do what you can with it.
Tone Madison: I guess to wrap up here, what's your favorite part of playing live?
Zack Weil: There's the weird transcendent thing that happens where you know that you're playing for 35, 40 minutes or whatever, but it feels like two minutes have passed. So that's kinda cool. For me, there's no amount of fucked up I can be where I'm not just immediately in this different plane of existence up there, where things make sense and you're just magically watching your hands and you're like, "Woah, this is weird." And then all of a sudden it's over, and you're like, "Oh, okay." And you pack up your shit. A lot of times people don't recognize me because my hair is just in my face all the time, so I'm just like some dirty guy walking around a show. Sometimes they know who I am. They usually know who Kevin is, because he's orange. He's always wearing orange. They're like, "I know that guy!" You'll see. He'll be in total orange-wear in Madison.